Common cleaning products can trigger asthma symptoms

(Reuters Health) – Fumes from cleaning products used at work can make existing asthma worse, according to a new study of professional cleaning service workers.

A customer shops along the cleaning supplies aisle at a Sam’s Club store in Bentonville, Arkansas on June 2, 2011. REUTERS / Sarah Conard

Products such as bleach, window cleaner, detergents and air fresheners exacerbated asthma-related symptoms in women, and their reduced lung function lasted until the morning after the treatment. exposure, in some cases worsening over time.

“These results confirm the importance of developing occupational health and safety practices designed to limit exposure to irritating chemicals in cleaning products,” the study team wrote in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

A wide variety of cleaning products are used by workers in environments such as offices, factories and hospitals, write David Vizcaya, of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center in Canada, and his colleagues. . Professional cleaning services are needed to clean, disinfect and control dust and mold on surfaces, but a number of studies in recent years have reported associations between exposure to cleaning products and asthma, note Researchers.

Vizcaya and her team assessed respiratory symptoms over about two weeks in 21 women who experienced asthma symptoms in the past year, eight of whom also had a longer history of asthma. All were employees of cleaning companies in Barcelona, ​​Spain.

During the study period, women recorded the different types of cleaning products they used at work as well as how they used them, for example in the form of a spray or a liquid. The list included 14 different generic cleaning agents, including bleach, detergents, degreasers, carpet cleaners, waxes and polishes.

On average, women used just over two different types of cleaning products each day, and on about three out of four working days they were exposed to at least one strong irritant, such as ammonia, bleach, or hydrochloric acid.

The researchers found that during this time, 17 women reported having at least one upper respiratory symptom, such as sneezing, throat irritation, and runny nose. Eighteen women also reported at least one lower respiratory tract symptom, such as coughing, wheezing, or chest pain.

There was a stronger association between exposure to cleaning products and the development of these symptoms in women with a history of asthma, compared to the rest of the group.

But due to the small number of study participants, the authors caution that these results should be interpreted “with caution” and that more research is needed.

Other recent studies have linked chlorine in swimming pools and in bleach used to clean homes and schools to asthma and respiratory infections in swimmers and schoolchildren.

The risk from cleaning products isn’t just seen in professional cleaners, said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, senior consultant for scientific affairs at the American Lung Association (ALA). The use of these products can also be dangerous in the home.

“The ALA recommends that at least for the home, people use non-toxic cleaners, especially for those with asthma and allergies,” Edelman told Reuters Health.

“In an attempt to be vigorous, many people use chlorine bleaches and laundry detergents at home, which can be very irritating to the lungs,” Edelman said. “And you don’t usually really have to use products like this. If people are going to use these products, they often don’t know how to protect themselves.

For example, mixing cleaning products that contain bleach and ammonia can cause severe lung damage, he noted.

In the industrial environment, worker protection can vary considerably, he added. Safety regulations vary not only from country to country, but also by type of industry.

“A lot of people working in this industry are day laborers, they are not unionized and may be afraid of losing their jobs if they complain or ask for protective gear,” said Edelman.

In a large company or medical center, these workers may be unionized and safety regulations will likely be more strictly followed, but even then the type of protective equipment will make a difference.

“Particulate masks aren’t too expensive or bulky to use, but they’re not going to keep vapors out,” he said. “To keep vapors out, they may need more bulky equipment.”

SOURCE: Occupational Environmental Medicine, online April 23, 2015.

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